Part V: The Climb to the Summit
Day 7 - Arrow Glacier to Summit Map
If you are camping at the Arrow Glacier Campsite, your guide will likely want to get you started around midnight. This means you'll be climbing the Western Breach during the night. Hope for some good moonlight, because without it you'll not see anything of the beauty of the area (of course, if you are afraid of heights, you won't see the heights!).
Climbing the Western Breach
If clear of snow, the track leading up is reasonably well defined. The first half of the climb up is on steep talus, with perhaps an occasional bit of snow or a brief bit of rock scrambling. Higher up, near the rim, the trail ascends many craggy short (<20 ft/8m, most often <10ft/3m) bits of cliff. In all cases, the rock of these craggy bits is solid and has tons of handholds. There are also some cairns on the route to keep you on track, but seeing as I did this at night I didn't get a good sense of how thoroughly cairned it is.
Shadow of mighty Kilimanjaro
It takes a long time to ascend 2,500 feet at this altitude, but eventually you will make it to the crater rim. Figure on at least 5 to 6 hours to get from the Arrow Glacier Campsite to the rim. Total distance from Arrow Glacier Campsite to Rim: 1.9 km (not as the crow flies, but along the actual trail with all its twists, turns, and switchbacks). If you are ascending at night, then you will encounter twilight and early morning as you reach the top. Have a look at the impressive climb you just did! Also, look off west into the distance and see the huge perfect cone created by the shadow of Kilimanjaro as the sun rises.
The crater rim
The terrain changes abrubtly as you get to the crater rim. Steep talus slopes and craggy cliffs are replaced by a flat, almost competely smooth floor of small volcanic pebbles. Rising off to the left close to you is a beautiful wall of ice: the remains of the Furtwangler glacier. Further off still to your left, far in the distance, are even more impressive ice cliffs, those of the Northern Icefields. Because of the stagnant/retreating mode of these glaciers and the small amount of precipitation up here, the glaciers have very well-defined ice-cliff edges. You can walk right up to the very edge of them on flat, solid ground. There little to no ice flow in any of these in-crater glaciers.
A well-defined path leads away to the southeast from the top of the Western Breach, assuming there has been no recent snow cover. If there is snow cover, then simply head southeast, keeping south/east of the Furtwangler glacier and north of the cliffs of the western breach. The terrain is quite flat. As you head east, note the massif of rock rising up to your right. This is the final obstacle: Uhuru Peak. At the top of that, you are at the top of it all!
Annotated view of crater walk
Climb to the top, Annotated
After about 500 metres of walking in this direction, stop, and look up to your right. There is a fairly broad couloir that leads up (south) Uhuru Peak. This is the final ascent route to the summit. There is a well-trodden path, but again, it may be covered in some snow. Try and find the easiest way up the couliour. It is not hard, and in fact easier terrain-wise than the Western Breach.
This final ascent is about 500 feet of climbing. You will top out on a broad, very gently sloping ridge at about 19,250 feet. From here, you can see the summit sign off in the distance about 400m away. It is an easy trudge over more relatively flat volcanic scree to the summit. Unless covered by recent snow, this is all over dry ground (there is no perennial snow cover along this broad ridge).
As you walk towards the summit, the view is spectacular in all directions. To your right are ice cliffs that mark the upper bound of all of those summit glaciers you espied from down at Barranco Camp. To your left is a panoramic view of the huge and desolate summit crater. Its like a different world up here! Off in the distance you can see bits and pieces of the glaciers that once covered everything up here.
summit sign is a wooden contraption propped up in the loose regolith
of the summit. It says:
"You are now at Uhuru Peak, Tanzania,
5895m Above Mean Sea Level. Africa's Highest Point, and The
World's Highest Freestanding Mountain. One
of the World's Largest Volcanoes. Welcome!"
Take a good long look around. It is quite impressive to be up here.
Arrow Glacier to Summit
Elevation profile over distance
Arrow Glacier to Summit (via Western Breach)
|Start Altitude:||16,100 feet
|End Altitude:||19,340 feet
Interactive trackmap with photo points - Western Breach to Summit - click map to view
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